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Gordon Styles


Advanced Manufacturing Trends to Watch

Three trends promise improvements in accuracy, speed, and design flexibility

Published: Monday, February 12, 2018 - 12:03

Within the advanced manufacturing industry there will always be a race to reduce speed and cost while maintaining quality. To this end, the industry’s landscape continues to quickly change as new technologies enter the market, new strategies are adopted, and consumer preferences evolve. Below are a few of the current trends to watch in the advanced manufacturing space.

Embracing 3D scanning for quality control

Global Market Insights predicts that the 3D scanning market will be worth more than $10 billion by 2024 and will continue to transform the design-to-manufacturing process. It will become a vital piece of technology for manufacturing companies looking for accurate and precise ways to inspect and measure products and parts for quality control purposes. 3D scanning is an extremely quick process compared to manual measurement with calipers and gauges which can be prone to user error. In a manufacturing setting, 3D scanning a finished part allows the factory to digitally capture its topology. This digital profile can then be compared against the original CAD file to easily reveal if specs are being met.

Another advantage of 3D scanning is that it provides more comprehensive measurement than a coordinate measuring machine (CMM), which can only measure a finite amount of points on a part. 3D scanning technology also continues to get faster every year. 3D scanning paired with a robotic arm is a natural addition to an assembly line.

The medical, automotive, and aerospace industries are all driving the use of 3D scanning for quality control because these sectors demand perfection and the technology can easily detect even the smallest of imperfections. Using metrology tools like 3D scanning can save time and money and have proven to increase accuracy. In a market with stiff competition, minimizing mistakes is vital for client retention.

Integration of AI into the product design process

Although artificial intelligence may frighten some people, it is here to stay. In manufacturing, humans will always be needed because a robot can’t solve problems the way a human can, especially when it comes to the creative process of designing. On the other hand, the use of AI can be helpful for more repetitive, tedious tasks and for aiding in the design process. For example, generative-design software aids designers by allowing engineers to input design goals into the software, along with parameters, methods, and costs. From here, the AI-based software can easily guesstimate all the possible iterations of the final design, allowing the designer to easily choose which options work best. This can also be applied to parts that already exist. Take a solid part, for example. Software can be used to automatically generate internal lattices to make the part lighter and stronger, yet keep the same outside form and function.

Currently, there is a lack of understanding when it comes to designing for certain manufacturing processes like metal 3D printing and even CNC machining. Often a design is sent to a manufacturing firm only to be modified multiple times. It can be very costly in time and money to eventually evolve an initial design into a version that can be machined. To save on all the back and forth, using AI-based design software to optimize certain aspects of a part design streamlines the processes for both the designer and manufacturer.

AI can also be extremely beneficial for complicated designs. Take, for example, designing an airplane with more than 300,000 parts. It’s imperative that every piece fits together perfectly, down to the last bolt. Using AI technology in the design process takes away a lot of the guesswork and tedium involved in measuring not only individual components but also complex assemblies. AI software will be able to help designers and manufacturers visualize how everything will fit together before a single part is made. This saves time and money for both sides, as there is less back and forth on ensuring the CAD/CAM design is the correct fit for the manufacturing process.

Adoption of low-volume manufacturing

Product life spans are getting shorter and the time to market is decreasing, hence product developers are moving away from mass production and toward low-volume manufacturing, which encompasses the production of 50 to 100,000 parts. Many companies are enjoying a wide array of benefits when choosing low-volume manufacturing. Perhaps one of the biggest benefits is the design flexibility it provides.

Nike is one company that has embraced this idea of rapid prototyping and low-volume production runs as part of its supply chain. This allows the company to make last-minute decisions regarding color and other attributes of its products. This strategy allows manufacturers to fine tune a product to more closely match market trends just before a product’s release. It would also allow for a global company to use iterations of a certain design that are regionally specific to local tastes. This trend could be even further spurred by improving the speed of commercial 3D-printing technologies.

These three trends promise improvements in accuracy, speed, and design flexibility for the manufacturing industry. It’ll be interesting to see these innovations mature in the marketplace. The results for consumers, however, should be more customized, higher quality products that are received faster than ever before.


About The Author

Gordon Styles’s picture

Gordon Styles

Gordon Styles is an engineer and entrepreneur. Styles is the founder and president of Star Rapid, an international provider of rapid prototyping and low-volume manufacturing services.


The Future Shoe Store

In the 1950's (I know, I am dating myself!) many shoe stores had fluoroscopes to check the fit of children's shoes. Might we see in the future a shoe store where the customer's feet are 3D scanned, an AI system designs a custom fit shoe for each foot, perhaps further stylized by the buyer, and delivered by an additive manufacturing device.

Not even a clerk

Add to that, an Amazon Store-type system that automatically deducts the cost of the shoes as you leave the store and you don't even need a clerk. This does not bode well for retail workers of the future.


Enter the "Customer Experience  Interface Engineer"...

And the consultants

.... don't forget the CX consultants.